Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life On Both Sides of the Working/SAHM Mom Continuum

Note: This is a re-post of my recent guest blog post.

It was a lazy day after the 4th of July, my son & I still lounging in our pajamas, when I ran across a tweet from Kate-Madonna, aka @GirlMeetsGeek that I felt compelled to respond to:

"Dear mothers of the blogosphere: What is up with the hatred for SAHM or Work Away From Home Mamas? #DontUnderstandIt We're all just moms."

My first response was: "Is there something specific that tugged at you? Or just in general one vs the other? @girlmeetsgeek re: ...SAHM or Work Away From Home Mamas"

And following her reply which included "...seeing too much snark on the blogs and momboards..." my next tweet was: "@girlmeetsgeek I've been on both sides of the experience. They are parallel universes - One does not fully understand or respect the other."

A few DMs later & Kate-Madonna asked if I'd be willing to guest blog on that very subject to share my insights.  I was happy to do so.

As a few of you know if you've read my blog from the beginning, my career life was turned totally upside down back in December of 2008, when I first learned that over 600 co-workers nationwide, including myself, would be let go the following month. The first thing out of my husband's mouth was, well, I guess we should take our son out of daycare.  My heart sank.

And just like that, I negotiated with my husband that I needed two days a week to be free to look for work, as well as fit in a workout. I had no idea how difficult it would be to reinvent myself & become a Part-Time Stay-At-Home-Mom.

Those first few trips to the park were interesting indeed.  As an outsider to a SAHM group, the moms rarely stop & speak to you despite the fact that your children are playing together. 9 times out of 10, it was me initiating small talk with those moms.  These clusters of FT SAHMs seem to have this routine all together.  They coordinated their elaborate lunches, their kids all played together & then stopped playing at the same time & ate together.  In comparison, we arrived to the park later than them & often stayed later. I carried drink boxes, fruit snacks, maybe some pretzels & goldfish. We would run home to have our lunch & on many occasions my son fought to stay awake in the car & lost the battle, so lunch might have come after he crashed for naptime.

I scoured the web looking for parent/child classes to help fill our days together, which was a lifesaver - adding a sense of structure for both of us.  I looked into local playgroups.  I discovered what life in my neighborhood was like for the moms who didn't work.  It lived & breathed.  Every day that I drove off to the office, I had been missing out on the SAHM routine.

Initially, whenever I was around SAHM's, I was left feeling like an outsider - not part of the cool clique.  I seriously doubted that any of them ever had to work for a living.  I was almost certain that that they could not relate to me as a driven career-woman.

Usually, when you have a room filled with divergent opinions, one side thinks: "I wonder what it would be like to be that other person & share their opinions because the grass is always greener on the other side." In the case of SAHM's I found the complete opposite to be true. You might call it "Mommy War Games."

Most loved their lives & couldn't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to be home with their young children.  Some had willfully given up past careers & others had never worked & were proud to be "only a mother" during their days. Some were very judgmental about those who valued their career at a point in their lives when raising their kids "should be a mom's first priority."

I didn't relate to that sort of reality.  I love having a career as much as I love being a parent.  There was so much of my identity wrapped up in the fact that I balanced being a wife, a super-productive employee & last, but not least, a mother. I did it well & didn't feel like my life was lacking because I made a financial decision not to stay at home with my young son. It was a challenge for me to understand why setting & meeting personal goals such as that wouldn't be important to every mom.

I have to admit after a few month of being a PT SAHM, I realized how difficult the routine really was.  I found myself on the one hand feeling blessed to have the time to share with my son in a critical time in his life, when he is learning & growing mentally by leaps & bounds.  On the flip side, I worried that I wasn't doing enough & that he were better off being able to play & learn with his friends at daycare/preschool.

Eventually, I found a wonderful local playgroup, with whom I continue to stay in touch with via Cafe Mom - a wonderful online community & social resource. They eventually welcomed us in, even though my son & I had taken a different path to get there. The group is very structured with two types of gatherings: public, open to anyone & held in neutral locations and private, by invitation only & often hosted in homes.

The public events foster the opportunity to get to know the new SAHM on the surface and to observe how the children interact together. Initial conversations were not inquisitive, but rather were centered around past & future group events. A newcomer quickly feels left out.  It was more about what you were able to contribute to the group, rather than early acceptance.  In the long run, will you fit in & conform? Will the new mom say anything to make the group feel cautious or even confrontational?  You could even call it an initiation of sorts.

Expressions of an ideal way to parent are subjective and so personal. Opinions run across the board with a wide spectrum of beliefs & convictions. Some moms are by nature more open than others. It comes down to trust and whether you are willing to explore views outside of your usual boundaries.

"Lord, show us where there is loneliness, that we may take friendship. Show us where individuals are not seen as persons, that we may acknowledge their identity.  Show us where there is alienation, that we may take reconciliation." 
- Prayer for Women's World Day of Prayer, Jamaica

I prefer to compare it to any business relationship.  You utilize listening skills and negotiate to reach common ground.  Through my actions, I was able to lower some of the walls & show that I was more like them than they had first imagined.  I stood up another mom's child who was being bullied when I saw a parent who didn't care to discipline their naughty child.

I wasn't concerned what the offending child's parent would say or think - I acted from my heart.  Other moms in the group respected me for that reason & that one simple act.  It was a virtual turning point, reversing their thinking.  They were able to put aside any stereotypes about me, who wished to be a working mom again. It also led to deeper conversations at future play-dates.  We were no longer on opposite sides of a virtual battle field.

My wish for all moms on either side of this reality is to feel first, think second & speak third. Stop playing the Mommy War Games. Leave your generalizations at the door & get to know the individual you encounter from the inside out.  Try to step into their shoes & empathize what it would be like to be them - to be living their day-to-day existence. Every mom deserves respect. You might find a bit more compassion & understanding than you knew you had the capacity to have.  And I guarantee you will become a more genuine & empowered individual as a result.
Update: In case you missed them, here are the comments published on the guest blog. Do you have a different experience? Or do you just want to say - "I can relate," please leave me a note below...
1.        erica ( @ericamayer) Says:
July 10th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Great insights. I think even us “non” moms can learn from it. Your “feel first, think second and speak third” line is a mantra to live by.

2.        jenn Says:
July 11th, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Monika –
As you know, I work four days a week, and find myself playing the role of SAHM on the fifth day. We often run into SAHM’s at Target or the Wading Pool and I do feel like an outsider, but I’m okay with it. I also love having a career as much as being a Mom. I also feel it’s great for our kids to see us enjoying our careers. Thanks for you insights!

3.        Missy Says:
July 11th, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Great to hear your experiences, Monika. Interesting about your initiation into the playgroup. Ya know, I wouldn’t rush for sororities in college, and I’d probably not do well in that situation either.

I remember being out for a play date (on a weekend) one time with a bunch of friends and felt totally out of place when I realized I was the only working mom. They were comparing notes on ECFE classes and cloth diapers and other things I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) choose to do as a full time working-out-of-the-house mom. It was awkward and I sat there dumbstruck – wanting to talk about career topics, or even something neutral like child development! Anyhow, it only happened once… although funny I never forgot it.

Thanks for sharing –

4.        Jen Says:
July 11th, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Interesting experience. I’ve been a SAHM full time for a year now and if there is some kind of coordinated park/lunch routine in my city, I know nothing about it. Granted, we don’t leave the house that much because, well, it’s just too much work. But when we do go to the park, there are only a few other kids there and I might make small talk with the parents but I never even get their names and rarely see them again. The only SAHM I coordinate things with is my daughter’s best friend’s mom.

5.        Molly Says:
July 12th, 2010 at 10:45 am

Monika, I loved reading this. When I had my second son, I went from working 5 normal days to working 4 long days to have one extra day at home with the boys.

I signed up for classes and playgroups aplenty. And I tried to do it all in my one day. And I was an outsider. I hated it. I wasn’t doing anyone any good. I was trying so hard to fit into both worlds and failing miserably.

And so I stopped. I went back to working full time. And I learned to accept that I just couldn’t be all things all of the time.

This was a great post!

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:
Revisiting Work-Life-Balance


Rachael said...

Great post. We're all just Moms. There are hard things about either way of doing things, and I don't know why Moms everywhere can't be more supportive and accepting of each other whether we work outside the home or not!

Karen@StrictlySimpleStyle said...

Hi, found you on the Blog Frog 31DBBB Challenge. I was a SAHM for years and went back to school and then work PT when my youngest went to school full time. I see both sides of the issue. When I stayed home I could get bored and felt I should be doing something with the college degree I earned. When I worked I was sad to miss honor's assemblies and field trips. There were also positives too. If my child feel and hurt himself, Mommy was there to comfort him. At work I had adult time and felt like I was making a difference in the life of my clients.

We need to see both sides before jumping to hurtful conclusions.

Margaret Almon said...

I'm also coming over from the 31DBBB challenge--you were right above me when I posted on Day 19. I am not a mom, but I appreciated your thoughtful analysis of your own experience, and like another commenter, think your feel first, think second and speak last could be a mantra for the sometimes polarized conversation about "moms" vs. "childless women." There's no parallel universe where everything is perfect, and somehow if we try hard enough we will get there--our lives are happening now, in whatever configuration.